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Drinking iced beverages from dirty ice machines can make you sick

It's a dirty little secret you may not even know: That ice you put in your drink at bars and restaurants could make you sick if the machine it came from isn't cleaned.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It’s a dirty little secret you may never know about until it’s too late.

That ice you put in your drink at bars and restaurants, even the bagged ice you buy, could make you sick if the machine it came from isn’t cleaned.

Consumer Reporter Bill McGinty from our sister station WCNC does the restaurant report card every Thursday night and sees “dirty ice machines" often cited in the public reports.

On Monday, he’s looking at what you might be drinking!

That cup of ice seems clear enough right, but how closely do you look at it, and more importantly, the machine it came from?

We all use ice, it’s so second nature that we don’t give it a second thought. But maybe we should!

Every week, I’m combing through the health reports looking at violations and ones I see fairly often is pink or black buildup in the ice machine.

Lynn Lathan is with the health department. Lynn says “if you look in the chute and see mold or something cloudy, or a brown or beige substance, then you need to be concerned that they are not manually cleaning it enough.”

But here’s the dirty truth: the pink, sometimes slimy, film can lead to mold and grow harmful bacteria, salmonella and E. Coli.

Studies done overseas in Europe have shown that some restaurant ice is dirtier than toilet water. Zippy is a wholesale ice plant in Charlotte, North Carolina where they make more than 100,000 pounds of ice a day.

Wholesale ice is overseen by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture. Their ice has a label saying they are held to the highest standard.

The cold hard facts of “clean ice” is their message and livelihood.

Christine, the owner of Zippy, says “so how can people know if they are getting clean ice? In a restaurant? They definitely can’t.”

She adds, “they can look for visible signs like right? Yes, that’s about the only way they’d know. If they saw the pink and black, they’d know their ice is dirty.”

So what else should consumers be looking for? Experts say ice must be clear as well as odorless and tasteless; the bag must be properly closed and secure (no drawstring ties); the bag must have the manufacturer’s name, address and phone number; the bag must be free of any foreign objects; and

the bag must have a product code and/or a sell-by date.

So when you fill up to cool down, take a good look at the ice chute. If it’s a hotel bin or a fast food joint, where they make their own, look for anything black, brown, or worse, pink.

If it’s a restaurant, look up their health report to see their grade and to see if ice has ever been a violation. And if a fast food place is bagging and selling their own ice, that can be a red flag.

One final point, don’t think your ice maker at home is immune from all this. When was the last time you looked inside there…or worse yet…cleaned it?

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